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Chapter 5: How to Engage With the Workforce Ecosystem

This blog post is a DRAFT chapter for a book being published by Origami Works Foundation. We will correct inaccuracies in the final book version. If you identify any inaccuracies, please let us know using this Feedback Form.

So now you are utterly convinced that your organization should be taking advantage of free or subsidized solutions to your talent challenges. Hooray! The next question is - how? 

What are the various ways to connect with the supports available? What are best practices? What criteria should you consider when choosing a path forward? 

Sarah Brown of Virgin Hotels, who has partnered successfully with a number of business services partners, understands that the “how” is not necessarily straightforward. “Many employers don't know where to start, and it feels overwhelming,” Sarah notes. “Leaders are faced with many tough questions: What should I do? Where do I start? How do I make these connections?” 

That is what this chapter will address. While there is more than one way to get started, we recommend the following steps -- 

  1. Name and clarify your needs

  2. Identify and research options 

  3. Connect with candidate partners 

  4. Select a partner 

All along the way, you’ll need to build buy-in from leadership within your own organization. This means not only top leadership, but also line managers who work directly with any impacted roles.

This chapter will outline every one of these steps, and give you some tips from your peers who have navigated this process before you. 

Handy Hack: Seasoned Talent Management professionals might find some sections of this chapter somewhat rudimentary, but we don't want to leave anyone new to this journey behind. If any of these segments seem elementary to you at your current career stage, feel free to give them a quick scan and move onto the next step.

Name and Clarify Your Needs

Before meeting with or even conducting online research about business services partners in your area, it can be helpful to think about what specific needs you are trying to address. 

  • What problem are you trying to solve, or what opportunity are you hoping to capitalize on? 

  • What would “success” look like? 

  • How can engaging with free or subsidized business services contribute to reaching your goals? 

“Employers should first reflect on their workforce dynamics and needs: What are your goals and your resulting strategies? Consider whether you're seeking a diverse mix of skilled workers, aiming to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion, or addressing workforce turnover, especially with retiring employees.” George Wright, CEO, The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership 

Below are different categories of issues you might want to address through engagement with business services partners. Each includes examples of goals. Your organization’s goals could be quite different from these, but these examples should spark some ideas for you. Sample goals are included for these categories of business need --

  • filling open positions

  • diversity

  • retention

  • skill building for new hires

  • training or upskilling current team members

Feel free to skip any sections that do not apply to your organization.

When Your Goal Is Filling Open Positions

Are you trying to fill open (permanent) positions? If so, you could express your need in a way that reflects one of these examples -- 

  • We need to hire, on average, 12 entry-level aides per year 

  • We need to fill 16 construction positions by June 1 while meeting federal contract requirements. 

  • We project that we need to hire 4 coders and 6 data analysts between June and December.

  • We have frequent needs for temporary fill-in customer service representatives

Kraig Kistinger of National Tube Supply was seeking to address talent shortages that have become common in the manufacturing and distribution sectors. “Like many organizations, we are experiencing a shift in our demographics with the Baby Boomer generation retiring and Generation Z onboarding,” says Kraig. 

Un-Fun Fact: Kraig’s experience is far from unique. A study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute found that by 2028, there will be 2.4 million unfilled manufacturing jobs. Baby Boomers are retiring in droves, in what has been called the Gray Wave, creating a deep skills gap that many manufacturers are struggling to fill.

Kraig was looking for an increase in the number of applications received. If your organization is struggling with too many open positions, consider what success would look like, and express it in quantitative terms. 

When Your Goal Is Diversity 

Your goal might have less to do with a total number of job openings to fill, and more to do with the diversity of the talent pool you are currently accessing. 

Conscious Workforce Development is a hiring practice wherein employers and community-based organizations are intentional about sourcing candidates from a jobseeker pool that has fewer advantages and may face barriers to employment.

For example, Kerry Griffin of MERGE was seeking greater diversity to promote better business results. According to Kerry, “Having a plethora of voices on our teams is important because when people have different specialties, backgrounds, and experiences, they bring unique ideas to the table. That's how we develop the most innovative solutions for our clients.” Her goal was to ensure that the Talent Team, which she led, presented a variety of diverse candidates for every hiring team to assess. 

“The goal was to identify no less than a new, reliable source of talent that could also serve our deep commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. If satisfied, that achievement would show in lower turnover and increased diversity.” Heather Ronnow, Kronos Foods

A goal related to diversity could be something like one of these -- 

  • We need to diversify the applicant pool for our software engineers to better reflect the demographics of our area. In order to achieve that, we need at least ten applicants per month who represent historically underrepresented minorities. 

  • We’d like the pool of applicants to entry level roles to better reflect the diversity of our customer base. 

Jerry Baake of Advocate Aurora Health had a similar goal: “Ultimately, we want our workforce to represent and reflect the residents that we serve. That means we are making sure that we diversify at all levels of the organization, which will help improve health equity within the community as well.” Jerry and his team had clearly defined diversity, equity and inclusion goals and metrics they were seeking to meet as they engaged with business services partners.

“We recognize that in order to truly advance this industry with innovation, we must have a diversity of ideas. We simply can’t be of one mindset, and that means we have to invite many voices to the table to build the communities of the future.” Don Biernacki, Executive Vice President, Related Midwest

When Your Goal Is Retention

Are you seeking better retention of the employees you already have, or will hire in the future?

For Virgin Hotels in Chicago, low retention rates were a reason to seek partners. While their turnover was relatively minimal at 84.9%, they wanted to do better. 

Un-Fun fact: Pre-COVID, the average for turnover in the hospitality industry was 78%, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2021, it skyrocketed to 130% – meaning the same position turned over two or three times. 

Longer retention for certain roles was also a need at Aon, a large financial services firm. Aon was having trouble retaining employees in entry level insurance broking roles. Employees in those roles, who were required to have four-year degrees, wanted to move on to higher level roles quickly. The company wanted to support career development, but the turnover left needed positions open too often. Their goal was to increase retention in those roles. 

Some goals related to increased retention might be --

  • Average retention for entry-level caregivers Is at least 12 months

  • At least 75% of new hires in associate teller role stay on the job for at least one year

Clarity around what you are seeking can help you decide what kind of partner you need. Are you hoping a partner will analyze barriers to retention, measure employee engagement, and suggest solutions? Are you looking for help providing wraparound services, such as coaching or counseling, support with transportation to work, or child care?

When Your Goal Is Skill-Building For New Hires

Maybe your issue is not with your talent pool or retention, but with the baseline skills of typical applicants. Do you need help with onboarding or on-the-job training? Maybe you need assistance designing the training, or even just paying for it. 

An employer with these needs might identify a goal something like -- 

  • A cost-efficient and effective way to train a group of employees in hazardous waste management

  • Access to training funds and wage subsidies to reduce the costs associated with training new employees 

Some companies such as National Tube Supply seek not only additional applicants, but also to increase reimbursements for on-the-job training. 

When Your Goal Is Training or Upskilling Incumbent Workers

Maybe your industry is experiencing change (whose isn’t?). You might find yourself in need of fewer employees in certain roles, and more in newly created positions. Your goal could then be to “upskill” existing employees to simultaneously fill openings and avoid layoffs. 

An example of an upskilling goal comes from Advocate Aurora Health. The organization wanted to help staff move from entry level positions in food and environmental services, for instance, to middle-skill, higher-paying careers within the organization. 

Another possibility is you have identified a training need for employees, and simply lack the resources to address the need. For example, Pete’s Fresh Market was seeking to raise the competency of its supervisors. Alita Benzanis and leadership at Pete’s recognized the need to teach store managers how to communicate, how to guide, how to train, and how to inspire the teams that they led. 

“You know the saying: People quit their bosses, not their jobs. When we see folks heading out the door, they're not leaving Pete's, they're distancing themselves from the people they reported to.” - Alita Bezanis, Director of Organizational Development, Pete’s Fresh Market

Pete’s also found a need for English language training for some employees. The goal here was to raise the ability of frontline team members to communicate in English, so they wanted training tailored to a customer service context. 

One more example: Freedman Seating found that some of its team members had been affected by gun violence. Freedman wanted to help support employees in overcoming resulting trauma.

If you have needs similar to Advocate Aurora or Pete’s Fresh Market or Freedman Seating, maybe there is an opportunity to work with a partner that will subsidize the cost of training. Especially if you are building in-demand skills among workers who have faced barriers to employment, professional development, or promotion, cost savings may be available. 

Perhaps your training or upskilling need could be expressed similar to one of these examples --  

  • Our 20 roofers need to learn how to install solar panels, and earn PV Installation professional certifications 

  • We have ten cashiers who are interested in management positions. We would like to provide leadership development training that builds skills and also helps us decide whom to promote. 

  • Our team is running into some communication challenges. We’d like to offer some training in effective communication to 30 employees, but we have a very limited budget. 

  • We have less work for our coders, but we need more team members with database skills. We would like to reskill our team of 10 rather than lay them off and hire new people. 

  • We need our 15 manufacturing employees to learn new machinery including CNC units. 

Goals Worksheet

The following worksheet can help you clarify your goals and success metrics. 

Handy Hack: Be sure to involve senior leadership and supervisors in identifying your goals, and get buy-in for the business results you are trying to achieve. 

Identify and Research Partnership Options

Whether your primary goal is to fill gaps in your team, access sources of diverse talent, or upskill employees already on your team, you have choices about how to access free and subsidized services. Here are some ways to get started -- 

  • Connect with your local workforce board

  • Research options on a website

  • Talk to employer peers

  • Consult an expert

  • Check out an educational institution

  • Consider a service such as RiseKit 

We’ll look at each of these options. 

Handy Hack: You may find it helpful to refer back to our overview of these organizations back in Chapter 3. 

Ask Your Local Workforce Board 

One option is to start with your local workforce board. Employers can often access services through American Job Centers. For example, The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership funds ten American Job Centers (five in the city and five in suburban Cook County). Services are free, for both employers and jobseekers! 

“Employers should first lower acquisition costs by leveraging WIOA [the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act] through The Partnership, which provides pre-trained individuals ready for the workforce and avoids expensive staffing agencies. The Partnership makes sure employers get the skilled workers they need fast by speeding up the training, basically stacking the deck with a ready-to-go workforce.” George Wright, CEO, The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership 

Alita Bezanis of Pete’s Fresh Market turned to The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership when she had significant hiring needs. According to Alita, “At one point, we were opening a new store but hadn’t yet developed an HR department. There were hundreds and hundreds of applicants, and I was trying to handle it myself with one other person. It was chaotic with no system.” Alita and Pete’s Fresh Market received support from The Partnership’s network, through its business services professionals. They helped with recruiting and screening. According to Alita, “Through The Partnership’s support, we were better prepared when it came time to open additional stores.”

Connect with The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership online

The Partnership can provide customized training, on-the-job training, and incumbent worker training. The Partnership also can help affected workers if a company is downsizing by connecting them with resources to help them get back to work. 

“The Partnership coordinates with businesses and many partner agencies to facilitate a Rapid Response Workshop for laid-off workers, informing them of their rights, responsibilities, and available resources, whenever there are anticipated large-scale company layoffs. We then coordinate job placement and training services for affected employees.” – Kathleen Brannigan, Business Services Manager, The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership

Research Options On a Website 

Interested in considering a nonprofit organization as a partner? In some geographies, you can find an online directory of business services and partners. This is the case in Chicago and suburban Cook County, where you can access Talent Solutions Connector

“The Talent Solutions Connector tool is a one-stop shop and is super helpful at providing increased access to applicants. Anybody, HR professional or not, looking to connect with workforce organizations can start there. It's so easy and makes the whole process feel less overwhelming.” - Sarah Brown, Virgin Hotels 

On the Talent Solutions Connector site, you can browse business services and partners by the type of service you are seeking - e.g., recruiting and hiring; training & development; retention & inclusion; or best practice sharing (with other employers). 

If you have needs in Cook County Illinois, to research a list of options in one place, visit Talent Solutions Connector

Here is what the Talent Solutions Connector homepage looks like as of 2024. Once you select a service, you can learn more about it right on the site. Here is an example -- 

If you find a service interesting, you can learn more about it by clicking the "Connect with this Service" button. Most business services partners have a page or area on their website that is directed to employers. 

Talk to Employer Peers

Another option is to connect with people who are familiar with your sector or geography, and who are leveraging business services partners to address talent challenges. For example, Sarah Brown of Virgin Hotels wanted to find an organization that works with individuals with disabilities. She was not sure where to start, so she reached out to a former colleague who was able to offer some suggestions of where to start. 

If you do not happen to know someone with the information you need, you still have options. For example, the East Bank Club discovered prospective partners through an initiative called Reimagine Retail. Organized through the Aspen Institute and the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance, Reimagine Retail supported retailers who were committed to maintaining a business advantage through employee-oriented operations proven to increase employee retention. According to then-Director of HR Kevin Brooks, as a result of participating in Reimagine Retail, the East Bank Club “completely flipped the switch” from online ads to partnering with organizations such as Cara Collective and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future. 

“Connecting through the Reimagine Retail Lab was an invigorating peer connection experience. I spoke with five other employers who wanted to do the same thing I did and in that setting we could speak openly and honestly about our experiences. We discussed our concerns and past failures and how excited we were about making this happen.” - Sarah Brown, Virgin Hotels

Another way to learn what peers are doing is through a sector partnership. For example, the Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative leads a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing employment opportunities in the healthcare sector. The Collaborative and its members are experts on what works, and what does not. According to April Harrington, a Project Manager at The Collaborative, some employers have grown to understand the immense value of collaboration around identifying and developing talent, even with competitors. 

If you are in Cook County, look for current opportunities to collaborate with peers on the Talent Solutions Connector website. If you aren’t in Cook County, try searching for “sector partnerships [your region].” 

As of 2024, sector partnerships in the Chicago area include --

  • The Information Technology Sector Center

  • Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative

  • Early Childhood Education Workforce Partnership

  • Calumet Manufacturing Industry Sector Partnership

  • Illinois Agri-Food Alliance

  • Healthcare Sector Center

  • Hospitality and Tourism Sector Center

  • Information Technology Sector Center

  • Transportation, Distribution, and Logistics Sector Center

The Partnership’s sector centers facilitate employer engagement to support business growth and economic development in four priority, high-demand sectors in Chicago and suburban Cook County. [sector centers]

There is no need to reinvent the wheel when a group of peers can speak to what works. And understanding and embracing this collaborative mindset can yield significant benefits across any sector. 

Consult An Expert

A Solution Navigator is another great way to leverage subject matter expertise for your individual needs. A solution navigator is a person who is well-connected with one particular type of employer service and can act as a one-on-one concierge for employers looking to begin engaging with the workforce ecosystem. 

You can check out currently available Navigators on Talent Solutions Connector. Just search for “navigator” on the site. 

These folks can be a great first call when you are just getting started with establishing an expanded talent strategy. Or, they can help guide you if you’ve hit a sticking point. 

Check Out Higher Education Options

Especially if your need involves building in-demand skills, a local community or technical college might have ideas or even an existing program that could meet your needs. 

Connie Rutledge of City Colleges of Chicago describes their role as “a bridge between diverse talent and industry needs, making these collaborations as smooth and beneficial as possible.” 

City Colleges work with employers in many ways: by directly connecting them with students via job fairs and other recruiting efforts, by designing custom training and apprenticeship programs, and by consulting directly with employers to leverage their industry knowledge to create programs that will train students in the most cutting edge fields. 

Aon was seeking longer retention of employees in roles such as Claims Adjuster. Aon chose to partner with City Colleges of Chicago to offer an apprenticeship program to students at nearby Harold Washington College. Over the two-year program, apprentices earn a salary and benefits while pursuing an associate degree with a concentration in business. According to Shay Robinson, Public Affairs Manager for Global Ecosystems and Apprenticeship Programs, “We have an 80% retention rate since our inception, which I think really shows the effectiveness of apprenticeships.”

“Our partnership with local employers, such as Method Soap and Whole Foods, involves creating tailored training that prepares our graduates to be standout candidates from the start. By choosing to work with us, employers gain access to a prepared, skilled workforce ready to make an immediate impact.” - Joachim Borcha, Director of Grants Administration, Olive-Harvey College

Joachim Borcha of Olive-Harvey College (which is a part of the City Colleges of Chicago system) says they are able to help employers with a variety of talent challenges. “Some need help keeping workers, while others face issues with their teams' skill levels. This all prompts the need for customized training,” says Joachim. He notes that employers who wish to connect with their programs will first conduct a needs assessment to determine specific requirements. This ensures that any program developed will be as beneficial as possible - for the employer and the students that enroll.

A good place to investigate apprenticeship options, including how employers partner with City Colleges, is the Chicago Apprenticeship Network website

You need not limit yourself to publicly funded schools. Tom Vranas of Zentro Internet worked closely with Lincoln College of Technology. According to Tom, “Our experience with Lincoln College of Technology has been amazing. Their Electrical and Electronic Systems Technology program has become my primary source for hiring for field positions. We’ve developed this relationship for nearly two years and recruit 100% from Lincoln.” 

"We began to notice that certain candidates had a uniqueness to them. They were more polished even though they tended to be younger and less experienced than others. We saw that they were Lincoln Tech graduates, and that prompted me to begin our relationship with them. Our partnership with Lincoln Tech has been unbelievably successful. For our construction roles in Chicago, they have become our exclusive sourcing partner." - Tom Vranas, Zentro Internet

Consider RiseKit 

All the options mentioned above are free to use – and, they require investing time in researching potential partners. Another option is to collaborate with an aggregator of job candidates from community organizations: RiseKit. RiseKit is a community-driven recruitment platform changing how companies find untapped talent by sourcing candidates through community organizations. RiseKit automates job posting and job application status feedback loops to scale community hiring, connecting employers with hundreds of community organizations all at once. According to CEO Matt Strauss, RiseKit is “LinkedIn for hard-to-reach populations.” 

Ceceily Austin, Talent Acquisition Specialist of Howard Brown Health, sees RiseKit as a way to expand community hiring initiatives from eight to 100+ community partners in a year.  

"We haven't seen a tool like RiseKit before that specializes in Community Engagement DEI Management Platform. This time-saving community partner management system provides the benefits of finding thousands of more diverse candidates.” - Ceceily Austin, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Howard Brown Health

Employers can start using RiseKit at no cost: You post a job, RiseKit recommends candidates and provides contact information for them. A paid subscription (in 2024, $300-750/month) offers additional features. For example, paid subscribers can browse all candidates and integrate the program with their own applicant tracking system. Upper tier options include assistance with community outreach, a reporting dashboard, and other helpful features. The system also can be customized to an employer’s specific needs. 

Check out RiseKit online

Connect With Candidate Partners 

Once you have identified a few business services partners that might meet your needs, by all means, reach out directly. Depending on the partner, you might –

  • Use the contact information listed on the organization’s website

  • On the organization’s page in Talent Solutions Connector, use the “Connect with This Service” button

  • Ask for an introduction from a peer employer who has used the service 

  • Get a referral from an American Job Center 

Meet With Prospect(s) 

If you identify one or more business services partners with whom you might want to work, schedule face-to-face or virtual conversations. Include one or more of your line supervisors, to get their impressions and perspectives.

If you can, consider meeting at the prospective partner’s site. A visit enables you to tour the facility, sit in on a class with participants, or take a look at the computer lab. You can meet staff members and program participants. 

Before the meeting, prepare! It’s helpful to have a specific, but flexible, agenda with a prospective partner. Ask yourself, “By the end of this meeting, I would like to have … “ what? For example - 

By the end of this meeting, it would be great to have -- 

  • An understanding of the scope of work performed in the service area(s) of interest to our company

  • An understanding of how this organization goes about working with employer partners, including typical time frames 

  • A list of achieved outcomes including metrics 

  • A shared understanding of my organization’s needs and goals, and possible ways the organization could contribute to meeting them 

  • A list of employer references I can contact 

Ask Questions 

It’s helpful to walk in with a few questions ready to go. To prepare, in the table below, you can check the kinds of questions you might want to ask, and then tailor the questions to your needs. It’s likely you will not need all of these. Focus on the ones that make sense to you. 

Category to Consider

Sample Questions

Your specific needs

  • Our goal is x - How would you go about supporting us in meeting this goal? 

  • What would be the benefits of that approach? 

  • What challenges are associated with that approach? 


  • What are the out-of-pocket costs I can anticipate?

  • How much FTE time can I expect to need to support this partnership (hours per week)? 

  • Are there subsidies or wage supports or tax credits available for the kind of partnership that interests me? 

Best practices

  • What are successful employers’ hiring practices? 

  • What are the hallmarks of a successful employer partnership?

  • What can I do, as an employer, to foster success?

Talent pool demographics

  • Who are your program participants? 

  • What proportion of your participants live within easy commuting distance of our work site(s)? 

  • How do you ensure that job candidates demonstrate general stability (e.g., have somewhere stable to sleep; have childcare, if needed; are addressing any medical needs)? 

Your prerequisites

  • Do all your candidates have two forms of identification? 

  • Do your candidates have a background check on file? 

  • Have your candidates completed a drug test? 

Job readiness

  • How do you ensure that candidates have shown that they are ready to work consistently? 

  • How do you gauge candidates’ durable skills, such as communication, conflict management, professionalism, teamwork, and time management?

Program size

  • How many employers do you serve each year? 

  • How many participants per employer? 


  • What outcomes do you track? What results do you achieve? 

  • Do you measure the satisfaction of the employers with whom you partner? What do those instruments look like? What results have you seen over the past year or two? 


  • Can you provide any testimonials from employers similar to my organization who have had successful partnerships with you? 

  • Can you connect me with 2-3 individuals with whom you have worked so that I can learn from them? 

Be Ready to Answer Questions  

Any business services partner is likely to have questions for you. For example, if you are seeking to hire, think ahead about your answers to the following questions -- 

  • Needs and success metrics, as documented above

  • Types and numbers of positions that you need to fill, and how often 

  • Job descriptions, including pay, benefits, and career advancement opportunities

  • Typical hiring process, including what candidates can expect during interviews

  • Typical issues that arise with candidates for these roles 

  • What kinds of support from the organization would be helpful 

If you are seeking to train, upskill, or reskill, you might need to be prepared to provide information such as -- 

  • Job descriptions for the population you would like to train 

  • Number of people you would like to train

  • Preferred time frame for training to be completed 

  • Performance and learning objectives 

  • What constitutes “done” - certification? Passing a test? Just completing a certain number of hours of training, or a course? 

If you are seeking to retain the employees you already have, think ahead about -- 

  • Issues that are leading to retention challenges, as captured by exit interviews, from supervisors, and other means

  • What you have tried, and results 

  • Other solutions you have considered and are interested in exploring 

Additional Topics That May Arise 

Expect that part of the meeting will be focused on just getting to know one another, as organizations and individuals. 

According to Bianca DeRango, formerly of Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC), “Once we make an initial connection with an employer partner, we begin building a relationship immediately. Typically, an instructor and I will schedule an in-person meeting with the partner to get started. This allows us to understand exactly what the employer is looking for in a candidate. Once the connection is established, we begin recommending candidates.” 

The organization may want a tour of your job site, or a chance to shadow a worker, to gain understanding of the environment and day-to-day tasks involved in the role. 

Build Buy-In From Leadership

Along the way, consider the right time to share your research with leadership up and down the line at your organization. What have you learned? What next steps are you considering? 

Ask for leadership’s input to your conclusions, strategies, and plans. Clarify what involvement they would like to have in next steps. Don’t hesitate to ask potential partners for their input as well: they have successfully partnered with many folks in your situation, and may already have a stack of helpful and encouraging metrics designed to inform and engage upper management.

Select a Partner

In the end, your decision to work with a specific partner will likely come down to a combination of factors. A specific program might simply meet your criteria most clearly. You and your colleagues might be impressed by the caliber of the team, and its outcomes. Your team might experience especially good “chemistry” with a specific partner. 

“The initial alignment of values and understanding of our culture is crucial, or there could be communication breakdowns. Some agencies perfectly sync with our vision, while others might miss the mark.” Marisela Williams, Human Resources Director, Freedman Seating

Here are few factors to consider as you make a decision to engage with a new business services partner.

Consider Organizational Approach 

You may find that a particular business services partner’s approach aligns especially well with your knowledge or experience of the skills most needed in your organization. 

For example, a 16-week paid transitional jobs training program at New Moms focuses on developing participants’ “executive skills” which are 12 brain-based abilities that enables us to organize, react, and get things done for goal attainment. New Moms has won awards for this approach, which is backed by research and borne out by experience. If that strategy aligns with the values of your organization and the requirements of the roles you are seeking to fill, then a partner like New Moms might be the right partner for you. 

Heather Ronnow of Kronos Foods explains how her organization decided to work with Cara Collective: “We partnered with Cara because the students they work with are interested in developing life skills, and those soft skills line up with what we’re looking for in an employment setting.” 

“Our focus was on the level of support these organizations could offer, benefiting their clients and enhancing our partnership.” Christine Hill, Lettuce Entertain You

How well do a partner’s recruitment, training, and support practices resonate with you? That’s likely the most important criterion to consider. 

Consider Practical Realities 

Additionally, you’ll want to gauge a prospective partner’s match with your organization’s practical needs. A partner’s support program may be stellar, but you’ll still lack or lose applicants if program graduates have no convenient way to get to work. 

Here are criteria you might consider -- 

  • Partner’s experience with employers in your sector 

  • Geography - Where do the program’s participants live? Can they get to your work site?

  • Out-of-pocket costs associated with implementing suggested changes, if any

  • Time investment on the employer side  

Hopefully your business services partner is a good match not only in terms of talent, but also in matching your organization’s practical needs and capabilities. 

Consider Chemistry

In the end, one prospective partner might just seem to be a better fit. This could be because of the organization’s approach, its participants, its teams, or all of these. There might be a specific population your organization is interested in working with - does it match the population of prospective workers that this partner prioritizes?

Kerry Griffin of MERGE has been “all in” with partner CareerSpring for many reasons. 

“I was exposed to CareerSpring through our private equity partner. Being a first generation student myself, I was immediately drawn to the mission. The more I learned, the more I loved. From the founder to the internal leadership and external volunteers, there's something so special about everyone. I admire the collective commitment to meaningfully impact this languished segment of the population. I praise CareerSpring's efforts and their success. I cherish my involvement with the board as well as my opportunity to advise and influence the bright careers of this deserving group.” - Kerry Griffin, MERGE 

Chemistry isn’t the only criterion to consider, but it can be important in establishing and maintaining motivation to collaborate with a partner, through bumps as well as successes. 

Simple Evaluation Tool 

Below is a sample tool you could use to evaluate prospective partners. It assumes you might want to consider --

  • Approach - how the organization recruits, trains, and supports participants, and the outcomes achieved by the organization 

  • Logistics - how well does the organization fit your specific needs? What financial and time commitments are required?

  • Chemistry - what is your general “fit” with the prospective partner? Who is the organization serving, and who is the team with whom you would be working?  







Training focus 

Support provided 

Outcomes achieved  




Experience in our sector 

Out-of-pocket costs

Time investment on our side 



Populations of interest


Quality of references 

Of course, you should adjust the criteria and weighting to fit your own priorities. You can “score” each prospective partner however you wish - for example, A-F, 0-100%, High / Moderate / Low. While not a precise instrument, a tool like this can give you a directional indication of which prospective partners come closest to meeting your needs. 

Summing Up 

Hopefully this chapter has provided some helpful tips for engaging with business services partners who make up the workforce ecosystem. 

“Many employers skip crucial steps, essentially putting the cart before the horse and hiring without setting clear goals or a solid plan. … Yes, acting quickly is important, but being strategic is equally crucial. Without a thoughtful approach, you risk spinning your wheels and facing the same hiring challenges repeatedly. It's about balancing immediate needs with a well-thought-out strategy for your workforce.” George Wright, CEO, The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership

Key takeaways from this chapter -- 

  • Get clear on what your goals are

  • Research options for meeting your goals 

  • Prepare and connect with prospective partners

  • Make a selection 

Remember that you can get support at every step along the way. Irene Sherr of Cook County’s Bureau of Economic Development says, “I'd encourage employers to reach out to local resources. There are support systems in that can help resolve various challenges they may be facing.” 

Below is an engagement checklist you can use. Use a ✓ for strategies you'd like to explore and a ✗ for those that are not relevant to your current situation.

1. Name and clarify your needs

𝥁 Download the Expanded Talent Strategy Goals Worksheet

𝥁 Choose most pressing needs

𝥁 Get buy-in from leadership

2. Identify and research options (some or all of the following may be helpful)

𝥁 Use Talent Solutions Connector

𝥁 Talk to your peers

𝥁 Consult an expert

𝥁 Check out higher education options

𝥁 Consider RiseKit

3. Connect with candidates 

𝥁 Meet with prospective partner(s)

𝥁 Share your most pressing needs

𝥁 Ask and answer questions

𝥁 Build buy-in from your own leadership

4. Select a partner 

𝥁 Consider organizational approach

𝥁 Consider practical realities

𝥁 Consider chemistry

𝥁 Download the Business Partner Evaluation Tool



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